The 5-second rule – can you eat food you dropped on the floor?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve been told that if I dropped my food on the floor and picked it up within 5 seconds, it would still be safe and clean to eat –

Food gets contaminated immediately

Food gets contaminated immediately

bacteria didn’t have enough time to jump on it. Is that true?

Dear reader: To answer your question on the so called ‘5-second rule’ simply, this rule is not correct and NO, no small amount of time can pass to still allow us to pick the food up from the floor and safely eat it – germs free; and I mean no amount of time – not even a millisecond, or even less than that – not even a nano or a piko or however unimaginably small amount of time you want to use as a yard stick.

I’ve heard of several versions of this rule – a 2-second rule, a 5-second rule and even a 10-second rule and then some versions involving ice and they all seem to me as being conjured up by some witty kids wanting to find a way to enjoy every last bit of their favourite sweet (usualy the ones accidentally dropped on the floor, on the street or wherever).

There are some non-medical but rather physical principles stemming out of the very foundation of mother nature that render these rules ineffective and impossible and all are beautifully and cleverly described in this 10-minute video so I invite you to watch it here:

Is The 5-Second Rule True?

(also in the description area you will find many references to explore this topic further).

In 2003, this whole idea was first debunked by a high school student Jillian Clarke during her internship at the University of Illinois. In her experiments in which she dropped gummy bears and cookies onto surfaces laced with E. Coli bacteria she found out that the bacteria stuck to food immediately and the more time elapsed the more of them got on (we’re talking hundreds and thousands here and to get an infection, sometimes all you need is 8 – 10 bacteria).

She also discovered that about 70% of women and 50% of men trusted the 5-second rule and that sweets were more likely to be picked up from the floor and eaten than say, veggies – interesting eating choices?

Her findings were later repeated (reproduced) by a team of researchers at a South Carolina University.

So, if you dropped a piece of cheese or cake or fruit or whatever food on your floor, however fast you react to rescue it, you will have consumed some bacteria and/or viruses with it. Do not rely on your saliva or stomach acid to kill them off – many have the ability to survive for long enough to reach your intestine.

Not everything is as bleak though: bacteria are everywhere and you’ll find them by their thousands in places you wouldn’t imagine like your kitchen sponge or the kitchen counter or your cell phone (much more than on the toilet seat or in the garbage bin). Most of these bacteria are benign and together with the minority of threatening ones are usually nicely kept in check by our immune system.

Without the immune system guarding us from a daily onslaught of thousands of bacteria, we’d be dead really fast.

You can do something after all – forget about the 5-second (or any X-second) rule, wash your hands before eating and after you’ve been in a toilet and eat as healthier food as possible to keep your immune system strong.

The next time you drop food on the floor, don’t count seconds – just throw it away.

Yours in health

Dr. Mo

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